The conservative establishment is up in arms against Donald Trump’s “divisiveness and vulgarity” and his “crude and sexist verbal assaults,”. Despite the criticism of Trump’s low-brow tactics, the anti-Trump faction of the Republican Party is starting to embrace them.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems to be at the forefront of the Republican establishment’s effort to stop Trump’s seemingly unstoppable campaign. But a few weeks after publicly denouncing Trump’s racist and offensive tactics, Romney’s decided to adopt the same playbook.
“Donald Trump has had several foreign wives,” Romney joked at the annual dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee Tuesday night. “It turns out that there really are jobs Americans won’t do.”
The joke may seem like a one-off, but it’s building off a strategy the anti-Trump coalition is trying out this week: slut-shaming.
Ahead of the Utah caucus Tuesday, the anti-Trump Super PAC Make America Awesome released a Facebook ad featuring an old nude photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, intended to stoke the outrage of conservative Mormons who put stock in family values. The photo also ran on Instagram, and was specifically targeted to LDS women.
The Super PAC is run by a Republican strategist, Liz Mair, who argued the ad was not slut-shaming but simply pointing out a harmful message of female subservience. “It’s objectionable because in typical porn/porn-lite fashion, it features her handcuffed to a briefcase, looking vulnerable and sends an implicit message of female subservience, as a lot of photos of tethered, naked women produced for male titillation and consumption do. And Mormon women don’t much like that,” Mair told Vox.
At the same time, another segment of the anti-Trump coalition on the right is trying to attack Trump on his own sexist comments about women. The Our Principles PAC, founded by Romney campaign alumna Katie Packer Gage, began running ads this week featuring Trump quotes like “Women, you have to treat ’em like shit.”
“This is how Donald Trump talks about our mothers, our sisters, our daughters,” the ad says. “If you believe America deserves better, vote against Donald Trump.”
Republicans’ two-pronged approach to sexism has one clear goal: to turn women against Trump. The evidence is mounting that Trump is alienating women. Half of American women recently said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of Trump, and the sentiment seems to be rising.
But the tactic that strategists are now using to try to bring down Trump has also pushed female voters away from the Republican Party, long before Trump entered the race. The last presidential election featured several candidates, most famously former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), who made disparaging comments about rape victims and women who used birth control. According to a survey by Planned Parenthood, the fervor candidates displayed for anti-choice rhetoric and policy sank Romney’s bid for the presidency and had reverberating impacts down-ticket.
It wasn’t just liberal groups noting the connection between women’s voting preferences and the anti-woman talk. A Tea Party survey in 2014 found that women saw the party as “intolerant” and “stuck in the past.” The data is un-spinnable. Single women have effectively abandoned Republicans. Working mothers are also fleeing in droves.
Trump may damage the party’s ability to change its “war on women” image and win back those voters, much like he’s destroyed their chances with other must-win voting blocs. But the GOP may do even more harm in deploying its typical anti-woman attack strategy to bring him down.
This post originally stated incorrectly that Liz Mair worked on the Romney 2012 campaign. It has been updated.